Hiatus , Escaped , Faking It , Iceman , Judgement Day , Dagger , Deliverence , Outlaws and Inlaws , Rule 51 & Swan Song
Early Evening one hour after Mike Frank's Funeral – May 25, 2011
Looking around the squad room, it was easy for Ducky to see that every one of them was feeling the pain of Mike Franks' death keenly. Ziva's normally stoic façade had already begun to crumble, her eyes glassy with unshed tears as she sat staring at her monitor, as though she'd find the answers there. The M.E. had just arrived in the squad room, having come straight from the retired agent's funeral and stopped to look at each of them in turn. As he stood silently scrutinizing this team, a quiet Jimmy stood by silently doing the same. Neither spoke a word, but their sorrow was as plain to see as anyone's.
Tim was clearly worried about his teammates as his constantly shifting glances of concern spelled out. But, more than that was the look on his drawn, distanced expression with exhaustion etched across his face that clearly said that he had someone else on his mind; someone he was very concerned about. Tony's eyes hadn't come up off his desk, but his shoulders were slouched with pained sorrow. In fact, the Senior Field Agent hadn't said a word since they'd come in from Mike's funeral- to anyone.
They all knew Abby was silently hiding out in her lab, having reached the stage in her grief process where she needed to be alone. She wasn't quite ready to cry it out on someone's shoulder but she'd need the others when she got to that point. For now, they knew to leave her be.
Tim's expression seemed to change as if he'd resettled his thoughts for a moment and as Ducky watched him, he shut down his computer, grabbed his gear bag and stood up; his mind made up. It was obvious that there was somewhere he needed to be and he needed to be there now. Even though this was far beyond his normal scope of behavior, the fact that he felt strongly driven to do what he was about to was clear.
Tony finally looked up as Tim walked past his desk toward the elevator. "Where you goin', Probie?" the question was quiet yet tinged with the authority the older man had long ago earned as the boss' second-in-command.
"There's something I need to do, Tony." Tim answered with the quiet dignity and respect befitting the mood within the squad room at present as he stopped and looked at his teammate.
"Can't be more important than being here for Abby." Tony argued.
"Believe it or not, Tony, this is more important. Besides, it's not like Abby's being left alone. She has you guys when she's ready to be comforted."
"Probie, she's gonna need you to be there for her, more than us. She always does. Whatever it is you think you need to do right now can wait."
"No, Tony, this can't wait and besides, you and Ducky are the one who need to be here for Abby. She listens to both of you." Tim answered with a little more volume to his still calm tone. Without another word, he glanced at Ducky and then at Jimmy, offering them each a small smile as left the squad room without looking back.
Drawn here to this wall of fallen heroes like a moth to the flame, the emotions rose from the depths of his soul, threatening to choke the very life out of him. He felt lost because the life lost this time had been so much more than a friend, a colleague or a fellow agent. He'd been mentor, brother, lifesaver, best friend, trusted advisor and a moral compass of sorts, all in one. Standing there looking at the wall now, the faces stared back at him almost accusingly.
How many more would be lost to this cause? Was he doing enough? Could he have prevented the loss of this agent or that one, Jenny or Cassidy, Langer or Lee; Pacci or Kate? And what about Macy and Mike? How could he have prevented the horrible way Macy died? What could he have done differently so that Mike's life hadn't been sacrificed this way? How was it they could outsmart and outlive the most vicious of drug cartel scumbags from Mexico, but lose the battle of a CIA experiment gone wrong? Was there no justice in the world for the Agents who put their lives on the line every day?
Before he could stop it, a treasured memory slipped through the levee and replayed itself in vivid color in his mind:
"The world's changin', Mike."
"All the lines are getting blurred, Probie. Hard for a man not to step over them. And you can call off this protection detail. I can take care of myself just fine."
"No, I can't do that, Mike. All you have to be is a half a second slower and you're dead."
"Or the other guy just has to be a half second faster, just like it's always been….Maybe I am a half second slower."
"Hell of a way to find out you were right, huh, Mike?" Gibbs softly scoffed as he felt the slice of pain twist in his heart. It wasn't but a heartbeat later that another memory flew up to hit him square between the eyes.
"Girl had a lot of regrets."
"We all do."
"Never thought this would be one of them, Boss." Gibbs murmured apologetically, tracing the photo one last time as the memory of that short conversation came back to him now.
"Don't apologise; sign of weakness."
"Not between friends, Mike. Definitely not between us." Blinking back the tears that blurred his vision, Gibbs tried to rein his breathing and his emotions in as one more memory slipped through his silent walls.
"I'm saying there comes a time to hang up your spurs".
"I won't need you or anybody to tell me when that is I'll know 'cause I'll be dead"
"Weren't supposed to hang 'em up like this, Mike. You were there from the beginning and I'll be damned if I know what I'm gonna do without you there now." Drawing in a ragged breath filled with sorrow and the tears he refused to allow himself to shed, Gibbs slowly let it back out as he stared down at his long time mentor's' photo one last time. He was mentally preparing himself to add it to the wall before him, but the longer he stood there, the more he wanted to deny what had happened.
"Thanks, Boss. For everything." He murmured softly, tracing the photo. With shaking hands, he respectfully tacked the photo up on the wall, right between Jenny's and Macy's. Mentally saluting the newest member of the fallen among the brethren of agents, Gibbs sent up a silent vow that somehow, he'd keep his promise to look after Lela and Amira. It was the least he could do for the one person who had loved and protected them with all he was worth. Now they were alone in the world; a partner, a father and now a father/grandfather lost to a cruel world that showed no mercy.
Tony looked long and hard at the M.E. once Tim had disappeared from the squad room. "What the hell could possibly be more important than being here for Abby?" Tony asked angrily.
"Anthony, you must calm yourself enough to listen to the reasoning Timothy gave you. He did not abandon Abigail, he left her in our care because he knows that we will take care of her and she will listen to our guidance while her defenses are down and grief is taking a toll on her."
"Okay." Tony grudgingly admitted. "Doesn't explain what was more important."
"I believe it is a matter of who is more important." Ziva observed quietly, her eyes cast in the direction of Gibbs' desk.
"What are you saying, Ziva? Are you saying that Probie is more concerned about Gibbs right now than he is Abby?" Tony asked incredulously.
"Why would he not be? Mike Franks was Gibbs most trusted advisor and friend. I am sorry Ducky. I did not mean to cast aspersions on your long standing friendship with Gibbs. We all know he cares deeply for you as well." She suggested as she cast an apologetic glance the M.E.'s way.
"No need to apologise, Ziva. I understand and have to agree with you. The death of Mike Franks will no doubt be affecting Jethro deeply. That is unfortunately, something we can be certain of." Ducky answered somberly.
"Yeah, But, why Probie? I mean what the hell gave him the idea that he could do anything to help Gibbs with it? The two don't ever talk about anything but cases on a normal day, for cryin' out loud!" Tony continued to object.
"Perhaps that is precisely why Timothy has taken this time to put Jethro first above everyone else; even Abigail, whom he usually puts first in all that he does. He knows that it will not be easy for Jethro to allow him to be there for him, but he believes it to be what he must do."
"I'm going over there." Tony muttered angrily and stood from his seat.
"No, Anthony! You most certainly are not! Do not make this a battle of wits or a contest between yourself and Timothy. The young man's heart is in the right place and whatever the outcome, good or bad, you must leave them to it. Ducky admonished.
"I agree with Ducky." Ziva spoke quietly. "McGee rarely puts himself out there in this manner where Gibbs is concerned and it is not our place to take that away from him. Until this moment, his concern has always been a silent one, always only speaking when asked during difficult times such as these and although I do not know why that is, I for one will do nothing to get in his way."
"C'mon! You guys know all Gibbs will want is his bourbon and his basement since his boat's gone. Crap! What if he starts building boats again? McGee will screw that up for sure! He and boats are like oil and water! Great! Gibbs'll come back even more pissed off at the world if he comes back at all! Damn it! Ducky, what if he leaves again, this time for good?" Tony ranted angrily, his own grief giving way for irrational thoughts.
"Anthony, do not buy trouble. Stop looking for it in places it has not yet arisen." Ducky advised sadly as if he too were worried about that possibility.
"We're letting the chronically seasick probie guide this ship? Unbelievable!" Tony muttered as he sat back down with a plop.
"Anthony DiNozzo, I'll thank you to stop thinking and speaking so disparagingly of your teammate! He has always been there for you, has he not?" The M.E. admonished sternly.
"And what has his seasickness got to do with comforting someone?" Ziva demanded.
"Yeah. Yeah, he has." Tony admitted with a deep sigh of resignation. "I'm not explaining it again, Zee. Okay, Ducky. We'll do this your way."
"Good! Now, maybe you should consider giving Timothy some credit where it is due, young man! He cares greatly for all of you and if given half the chance would be able to show you as much!" Ducky admonished him further.
Tony looked at the M.E. silently; contemplating the truth he'd just been handed.